A Letter to Harris

I'm in Puerto Rico again, and you are not here. Text messages and internet pages tell me you "died" yesterday. Actually a few days ago now but it feels like a dream. I'm waiting for the switch, the gag-reveal, but all I keep hearing from people is words of love and concern, memories and condolences. Pictures, jokes, stories of good times. People are reminiscing so quickly.

What's to reminisce? You're still here, right? You're a constant, so you are always here. You are not "Not." That's not really your style. I know you exist so indomitably, so forcefully and with such presence and vigor, it is impossible to think of you in the framework of absence. You are presence. In its most unrelenting, powerful, charismatic, unpredictable, unabashed, delightful, stubborn, vibrant, playful and joyous form. Its most joy-seeking form. You relentlessly sought joy, which is what comedy is, I suppose -- an endless chase for that pureness and joy of being, that most alive form of expression: laughter. What better reason to exist than in tireless pursuit of that unparalleled form of connection and of joy? Truly the cherry on top of life's sundae of offerings. That is what you, like so many other greats, most sought and most gave, and you pursued it with a level of passion, force, directness, and bold determination that I have rarely ever seen.

I remember walking with you to one of your first stand up gigs in Boston as you occasionally stopped to air-gag on the steps of Government Center, warning me that I had chosen to date a crazy person and that, embarrassingly enough, this was something that happened every time: you would feel so nervous before going to do stand up that you would vomit pre-show. You didn't actually end up throwing up that day and as I recall that neurotic ailment did eventually wear off, but what a testament to your stubborn dedication, that you would constantly force yourself to go through with something that literally made you sick with anxiety, purely because you were determined to get better at that thing. To reach the next level of greatness.

I'm writing this to you because I feel the need to talk to you. Obviously you're the first person I want to talk to about all this. "How are you?" I want to say. "Can you believe that happened?" I want to ask you, "That was crazy." And we'll talk about what you were feeling and all the bizarre things that led up to it and how you're so happy everything turned out okay, cause that would've been really stupid. Even from the shadows of the darkness your mind has been clouded by, you agree. "Nah, I don't want to do that. That would be stupid. A pretty good joke, yeah. But not for real."

I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I see pictures and words telling me stories and giving me supposed information, but I know you're there somewhere, waiting to pop out and go "Hurrah!" I feel you watching all this because it's impossible for me to imagine you not watching. It's impossible for me to imagine you being unaware. Your awareness was always so present and so precise. It was this keen awareness, this sharp aliveness and intelligence that gave way to the ultimate level of scrutiny and critique, as well as the highest comedic taste. Not sparing anyone's feelings or dignity (your own included) in the process, you maintained a commitment to high standards and brutal honesty. Because of this, your opinion was valued by everyone you touched: your approval was the highest honor, your disdain the ultimate burn. To be approved by you was to be receive a stamp of recognition from the Comedy God. To know it came from the highest sensibility, and to know it was completely authentic. No bullshit. The same thing that made some people fear you is what made you loved by them and so many more; you were ruthless in the most honest sense of the word -- driving directly at what you wanted, cutting no one any slack, making no excuses, holding yourself and everyone else to the highest standard. Your own standard of comedic brilliance.

For this reason, and for the fact that you were one of the most unfailingly funny people I've ever met, you rose to the top very quickly. Like a fine cream, or, if we're sticking with the sundae metaphor, a cherry. Without much time, though not without considerable and truly exhaustive effort on your part (a fact which often may get overlooked as your success was so rapid), you made your way to those upper echelons in which you had always dreamed of being: there you were, in the maraschino cherry of the comedy world.

You always used to say to me "I just want to make my parents proud." Not because they placed any sort of pressure on you, but simply because this was a mindset you had created for yourself; to be the best, to make them proud. It was a standard you set, something to live up to.

And then you did live up to it. Again. And again. And again. You moved to L.A. and got "discovered." You met all your idols and then they asked you to work with them. You bought a house. You met a girl. And another one. And another. You wrote a book. You even got to play with your favorite band of all time, and you're not even a musician! (Okay, you're a musician, but you know, not with a capital "M"). You made people laugh every day in person, in writing, on stage, through characters, on TV. You made people laugh with your words, your gestures, your impressions, your smile, your own unbeatable and infectious laugh, and from time to time, with that one Snoop Dogg dance move you knew. You made your parents proud so fast and so many times maybe you felt like you'd run out of things to do.

You always had a cynical bent, one that sometimes comes with talent, sometimes comes with intelligence, and sometimes, as you might say, comes with being a "money-grubbing Jew with a weird Jew nose" -- your description of a bunny in a joke to which the punchline was "It's okay, I can say that, because I myself... hate Jews." I saw someone do a stolen version of that punchline recently and I wanted to stand up and call them out, lay claim to your material. You always did a pretty thorough job as a joke police enforcer, but I want you to know that I'll willingly accept the role of defending your intellectual property from henceforth. I'm sure there are plenty of other volunteer officers out there ready and willing to do the same.

Despite being a damn fun time to be around, this trademark cynicism could occasionally drive you towards the bleaker end of the existential spectrum. Perhaps this came from from a deeper unease at the level of vulnerability that optimism entailed, or perhaps you just enjoyed playing devil's advocate. Whatever the reason your outlook could often tend towards the nihilistic, particularly when it came to matters of hair loss, as well as matters of the heart. Even in the face of your undeniable charm and proliferous ways with the ladies, you always claimed you'd die alone. I guess you were right, I just didn't think it would be like this.

I'm in Puerto Rico again, for the first time in 10 years. The first time I came here was exactly a decade go, flying down from a cold Boston winter. It also happened to be the morning after we made our relationship "official." Quite symbolically, that trip to Puerto Rico marked the beginning of our time together. Now here I am, a decade later, back again on that same beach when I receive sudden news that time has ended. Ended for so many people whose lives you've touched. Friends, family, comedians, writers, actors, artists, strangers -- all of whom were stunned and devastated to be told that the show was over, left wondering what they could have done to convince you otherwise. Clap their hands harder and maybe there will be an encore. Words and pictures keep coming to tell me otherwise and two days is starting to feel like a long time to hold my breath.

Sitting on the beach staring at the same waves 10 years later, and I am struck by the uncanny symmetry that makes the whole thing feel like just one more of your perfectly crafted jokes. The ultimate call back.

I'm crying now, and the tears soak the page as I realize beyond belief that this time it's not a joke. You always had the last laugh Harris, and in a way, that's what this feels like.

I hope you know that I love you. We all do.